A whale has just broken the world's record for holding its breath under water, having completed dives that last for over two hours and reach nearly 2 miles below the ocean's surface.
The new record holder is the Cuvier's beaked whale, according to a study in the latest issue of the journal PLoS ONE. This species is a deep-water master, preferring to swim and hunt at depths greater than 3,300 feet.
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"It's remarkable to imagine these social, warm-blooded mammals actively pursuing prey in the darkness at such astounding depths, literally miles away from their most basic physiological need: air," lead author Gregory Schorr said in a press release.
Schorr, from the Cascadia Research Collective, and his colleagues analyzed data from satellite-linked tags (see above) that recorded the diving behavior and locations of eight Cuvier's beaked whales off the Southern California coast. The research team collected over 3,700 hours of diving data, including depth and time of each dive.
Schorr and his team recorded 1,100 deep-dives, averaging 0.87 miles deep, and 5,600 shallow-dives, averaging about 0.17 miles deep. The longest dive lasted an amazing 137 minutes.
Southern elephant seals set the prior record. Their dives have been measured as being up to 1.5 miles deep and lasting 120 minutes.
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As of now, the Cuvier's beaked whale record is untouchable, and their skill even goes beyond the mentioned records.
Both deep-diving elephant seals and sperm whales require an extended recovery period after long, deep dives. Not so for Cuvier's beaked whales. They average less than two minutes at the surface between dives.
Unfortunately, the species accounts for 69 percent of recorded marine mammal strandings associated with military sonar operations.
Peter Tyack of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has also studied Cuvier's beaked whales. He said that the normal deep diving behavior of the whales does not pose a decompression risk.
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He continued, "Lung collapse is thought to occur shallower than 100 meters (330 feet), so deeper parts of the dive do not increase the risk of decompression problems. However, if beaked whales responded to sonars with repeated dives to near 50 meters (165 feet), this could pose a risk."
Schorr indicated that some whales might learn to cope with sonar, but the strandings still continue. Hopefully we can figure out ways to prevent the deaths, saving these champion marine mammal divers.
Photo: A satellite tag is attached to the dorsal fin of an adult male Cuvier's beaked whale. The tagging arrow can be seen in the air as it detaches from the tag. Credit: Erin A. Falcone/Cascadia Research. Collected under NOAA permit 16111